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When dance meets architecture: A surprising and beautiful collaboration

Charlotte Edmonds and Robert Binet enlisted architects Julia Backhaus and Martin Tang to dramatize the space for their new mixed programme.

By Rose Slavin (Former Assistant Content Producer)

9 November 2016 at 4.47pm | Comment on this article

This month, choreographers Charlotte Edmonds and Robert Binet present a new mixed programme to mark their mentor Wayne McGregor's 10 year anniversary as Resident Choreographer of The Royal Ballet.

In previous years, the Linbury Studio Theatre would have staged these works, but as it is closed due to the ongoing Open Up Project, they will be presented in the Clore Studio. This blank canvas offers an opportunity for creatives to be more experimental with the space, as Binet explains:

‘We wanted to transform the Clore so it would work for both pieces’, says the choreographer. ‘Wayne [McGregor] has a great history of working with some really interesting collaborators and bringing some incredibly talented people into his works. We wanted to follow that tradition.’

Aiming to transform the space, Binet and Edmonds began speaking to architects, in particular Julia Backhaus from University College London’s The Bartlett. As director of the internationally renowned Professional Architecture Programme and founder of design studio Fluxarchitects, the German architect is inundated with enquiries. But something about their email caught her eye:

‘I’m always interested in collaboration – from working with heart surgeons to create a new medical wing in Africa to residential projects. This felt to be at the completely other end of the spectrum’, says Backhaus.

Despite being distant from previous projects, for Backhaus, there are parallels between the worlds of dance and design: ‘Both are concerned with the creation of space and how one moves through it', she says.

Backhaus enlisted her colleague at The Bartlett, architectural designer Martin Tang, and together with the two choreographers, they began to explore a way of transforming the Clore Studio into something more theatrical and architectural. They wanted a staging that would attempt to erase the traditional boundaries between audiences and dancers, with viewers sitting in-the-round, encasing the work, near enough to the dancers to hear them breathe.

‘In dance we see people enter on stage in a certain way and I wanted to do something different’, says Edmonds. ‘I wanted the dancers to emerge and the audiences not knowing who they are and where they come from’.

Backhaus and Tang designed a fringe-like wall, from behind which artists emerge into the space. In front of this is a sculpture made up of 230 individual strings which hang from the ceiling. It's an impressive piece of design that has its origins in the world of physics:

‘The hanging structure comes from the idea of the catenary curve – the curve that any thin line would assume when it is supported by each end’, says Backhaus. With just days until until the performance dates, the hanging sculpture is continually being modified to adapt to changes in the choreography of the piece.

‘What is interesting is that the geometry of our structure was totally determined by the choreography. We had to work it out mathematically to ensure it doesn’t interfere’, says Tang. ‘And if it does interfere’, adds Binet, ‘that the dancers can respond to it.’

Backhaus and Tang have relished the fluidity allowed in the creative process at The Royal Ballet, a welcome refreshment from their usual architectural endeavours: ‘Normally our projects last much longer and are glacially slow. This one is much more immediate’, reveals Tang.

‘A building is usually a big compromise’, says Backhaus. ‘But working on this staging has been a real luxury – the four of us developing something together, that is free to develop without feeling constrained.’

New works by Charlotte Edmonds and Robert Binet will be performed in the C-lore Studio Upstairs on 10–19 November 2016. Tickets are no longer available, but returns may become available.

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